Sabbatical, Day 15

Change of plan today. We were all set to visit Holy Trinity church, Springfield, but little Mark woke up vomiting. Debbie said she’d stay at home with him while I took Rebekah to church. However, she was nervous about going into a Sunday School on her own where she didn’t know anyone. However, she had a Plan B. She said she’d prefer to go to a church where she knew some people.

One church fitted the description: our local parish church, St Andrew’s, where the vicar is my prayer partner, the curate is our next-door neighbour, the reader was one of the children’s pre-school teachers … and tens of other people, too. Checking their website, I learned that the third Sunday morning of the month was all-age worship. I explained to Rebekah that she wouldn’t be going out to Sunday School but would be staying in the service with me, where we would all do things together. She was happy, and off we went. 

It’s always interesting to see how another church handles these things. I think all-age worship is notoriously difficult to carry off well. It’s hard enough pitching something for a group of adults at some times. And it isn’t without cause that children are split into year groups at school to focus the teaching. (Even then, the teacher has a challenge.) With breadth of ability, background and so on, I envy any church that can turn in a good act of worship that helps people across the generations to connect together with God. For my part, I don’t assume that all-age worship or ‘family service’ simply equals ‘children’s service’. I try to include several little elements, each mainly pitched at a different group within the congregation.

So what did I think? Well, naturally I’m not going to write something here on a public blog that constitutes a review of worship largely led by good friends of mine. However, one observation struck me in particular. As an Anglican church, they are largely constrained to use official liturgies in their services. What we had this morning looked like it must be a General Synod-sanctioned order of service for all-age worship. It was like a cut-down version of Morning Prayer. However, if some liturgist thought this was sufficiently simplified to include children in the worship, then I’m afraid someone at Church House needs to meet some kids. I wouldn’t expect everything in even an act of all-age worship to be accessible to a nearly six-year-old, but I was on a permanent translation exercise with Rebekah. Phrases like ‘source of all life’ are way too philosophical and abstract to work with children. If only the liturgists had rewritten things in a more narrative form rather than thinking they had to give them a taste of Chalcedonian or Nicene Councils, it would have been promising.

Haveing nevertheless been sold a pup by the hierarchy, I have to say that St Andrew’s did put two or three good things into the service where they had the liberty to do so. The Bible reading was dramatised effectively. I still needed to explain to Rebekah what leprosy was, but I would have had to have done that anyway.

Then there was the use of a DVD clip at the end of the talk. The theme was how we exclude people whom God wants to include. They used Hans Christian Andersen singing ‘The Ugly Duckling’. It resonated with older people who remembered the song and/or the film, and children were invited to the front to get a better view. It made sense to them, too. 

Finally, one song in particular that I didn’t know but probably millions have known for aeons. Jim Bailey wrote a version of the Lord’s Prayer in the mid-90s (yes, 1990s) and I found it very singable. Definitely one to note for trying out when I return from sabbatical.

Welll, there’s nothing very interesting in blog terms to report about the rest of the day, as it mainly consisted of me taking Rebekah out while Debbie continued to stay home with Mark. But hopefully what I’ve written on the all-age worship will stimulate a conversation. I look forward to any comments you’d like to make.


  1. I agree with you that all age worship is incredibly difficult to carry off well. One invaluable resource for me is a longsuffering teacher friend who will read any liturgies/ scripts I intend to use and critique them.

    Acessibility is essential, but if we simply dumb down adult worship we do no-one any favours.

    Hope that Mark will soon be better, and that you and Debbie get a chance to enjoy a belated Valentines celebration. 🙂

    Thanks for your support and prayers last week.


  2. Thanks, Sally: you must find your teacher friend invaluable! I think you’re right about the tension between accessibility and dumbing down, too.

    Hopefully Mark will be better tomorrow. Tonight we phoned our family friend who is our hairdresser to cancel an appointment for all four of us tomorrow with her, for fear of passing on the bug to her and her two children. She told us that this is yet another infection that is going the rounds. It has already been through her family – everybody had it for 24 hours – but naturally we wouldn’t want to give it back to them. I’d like to think the rest of us will steer clear, but Rebekah is quite run down and we’d never be surprised if it hit her. Just what you want for half term.

    It was my privilege to pray for you last week. I hope your situation resolves positively and peaceably.


  3. Very interesting review, thanks. Isn’t it good to be able to see what other people do? I think that’s the thing I miss most as a minister. I do go to a weekday Eucharist, but it’s the same person who takes it every week so I’ve become used to his style.

    I really do value Methodism’s ability to be flexible on liturgy. Not saying that I always get it right but many is the Sunday I’ve blessed the day I’m not constrained to official liturgies.

    Hope Mark feels better soon and no one else gets the bug!


  4. Thanks, Pam. It certainly made me grateful for our flexibility on these issues. It also made me wonder whether I would have said other things if I hadn’t known those leading the worship! I hadn’t intended when starting the sabbatical to compare other acts of worship, but you find yourself doing it without intending, don’t you? However, I’d rather see the exercise positively, even if that means being more like a magpie picking up useful pieces here and there to deploy when I come back.


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